Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Though Christians say torture OK, Panetta says "no" to torture, "yes" to rule of law

[Image of Leon Panetta from Wikimedia]

According to every single poll I have seen in the past 50 years, a majority of people in the U.S. call themselves Christians of one stripe or another.

More recently, polls suggest a growing number of American Christians identify with the various fundamentalist or so-called "evangelical" movements. These are the "born againers," who are convinced that their God has great concern for the minutia of their lives, and, of all the nations in the world, is most supportive of the United States. The reason for God's prejudice toward our country, they say, is that our Founding Fathers were fundamentally, if not fundamentalist, Christians who conceived and structured the United States on the same biblical principles which fundy Christians believe crucial to survival today.

Over the past eight years, many leaders in our government have been born-again Christians. The most important of these is George W. Bush, who claims to have personally accepted Jesus into his heart, and has referred numerous times to his spiritual life: Bush not only claims to read the Bible daily, he has also heard the voice of God directing him to take certain actions.

George W. Bush is also a torturer. A number of the people George W. Bush placed in lofty government positions agree that torture is a valuable method of gaining information from our enemies. Bush's lawyers have taken torturous legal paths to justify the use of torture.

As incredible as it sounds, torture has been made acceptable under the Bush adminstration.

Things are going to change, however. Leon E. Panetta, Obama's choice to head up the CIA, has written a brief article in the Washington Monthly about torture and the rule of law.

Panetta begins by noting that the latest polls indicate "two-thirds of the American public believes that torturing suspected terrorists to gain important information is justified in some circumstances."

Two-thirds! To put it another way: most Christians in the United States believe torture to be a positive, not a negative practice; that torture, in some instances, is not only appropriate and legal, but the right thing to do.

"How," asks Panetta, "did we transform from champions of human dignity and individual rights into a nation of armchair torturers? One word: fear.

"Fear is blinding, hateful, and vengeful. It makes the end justify the means. And why not? If torture can stop the next terrorist attack, the next suicide bomber, then what's wrong with a little waterboarding or electric shock?"

What Panetta writes next should be required reading for all American citizens: "The simple answer is the rule of law. Our Constitution defines the rules that guide our nation. It was drafted by those who looked around the world of the eighteenth century and saw persecution, torture, and other crimes against humanity and believed that America could be better than that. This new nation would recognize that every individual has an inherent right to personal dignity, to justice, to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment."

These are the values that have defined the United States. "We are sworn to govern by rule of law, not by brute force."

And, most importantly for our times, Panetta says "We cannot simply suspend these beliefs in the name of national security."

To all those Christians fooled by the wankers of the religious right, this nation is not "under God" but under the Constitution.

And that is of critical importance! You'd be hard-pressed to find two people who agree on what God is, or what God requires and you'd be even harder-pressed to find two people to agree on anything in the Bible. People make the Bible say just about anything to to justify whatever actions they wish to take. You can even find passages that justify torture, and slavery and murder!

When the majority of Christians in our land come to believe that torture is OK, we know that religious belief is not only irrelevant to the greatness of America but is inimical to that greatness!

The United States of America lives by the rule of law as specified in our Constitution. While our Founding Fathers were primarily deists and often hostile to organized religion, they did on occasion nod to God, which would be expected given the times in which they lived.

They believed, however, primarily in the rule of law, as that rule evolved down through the centuries following the signing of the Magna Carta by King John in 1215. They feared religion and the corruption of government by religion and religious people. That is why there is no reference in our Constitution or the Bill of Rights to God. There is no statement in our founding documents about "depending" on God or any deity.

Many christianists today pronounce, as if it were a fact, that non-religious people have no basis for morality or ethics. The falseness of this has been proven over and over again. In fact, the opposite is too often true: it is the religious who are poverty stricken, morally and ethically. Belief guarantees nothing and often leads people to horrific actions based upon what they perceive their god desires.

That is why we should not be surprised that a majority of Christians in this country - people who claim to follow the Prince of Peace - find it possible to justify and support the torture of other human beings.

And that is why, we as a country, must never forget that our foundation does not rest on trust in a god, but on trust in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

Too many people have already experienced the hell that derives from our leaders' "trust" in their god.

It's time to get back to trusting the rule of law as laid out in our founding documents.

h/t to Andrew Sullivan

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